Just as if they were following a Hollywood-made script, the Mountaineers defense almost always seems to give up a few points in the first half, only to flip the switch and make stop after stop in the final two quarters. Using their unique 3-3-5 stack defense, the Mountaineers are sending an important message to their opponents throughout the Big East; if you're going to get points, you better do it in the first half.
Almost on cue after the rifle is shot off into the air to signal the second half of play, the WVU defense clamps down and stifles opposing offenses. This unplanned formula has worked to the tune of six second half shutouts, including four in a row, with the most recent being the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Although the Mountaineers ultimately lost the game in overtime, the defense held the Bearcats to 16 yards in the second half and only allowed them to convert on one of their seven third down conversion attempts in the final 30 minutes of regulation.
Fresh off posting a team-leading 11 tackles in the overtime loss to the Bearcats, first year starting weak-side linebacker and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. native J.T. Thomas said it's nothing more than a coincidence.
"I hear that from a lot of people -- it's funny because we play the same game throughout. It's not like we're spotting them or anything," Thomas said. "We play hard the whole game. We expect to not give up any points, it's our main goal. I wouldn't say it's a first half or second half thing."
Although the team is using the same game plan in both halves, Thomas admits that sometimes things don't go as planned and some small half-time adjustments might be needed.
"We just need to stick to the game plan, sometimes we get off a little slower than we normally do," Thomas said. "But overall we have the same game plan the entire game and we just need to stick to the game plan. At halftime the coaches talk to us, and we adjust a little bit."
With so much inexperience on this year's defense, coupled with the loss of senior middle linebacker Reed Williams to a medical redshirt, Thomas has been thrust into a leadership role. It's a role where he prefers to let his play on the field do the talking for him.
"I'm not a real big vocal leader," Thomas said. "But I try to go out there and lead by my play."
Despite leading the Big East in scoring defense at 16.0 points per game, Thomas feels like the best has yet to come for this year's young squad -- a scary thought for anyone not wearing the Old Gold and Blue.
"I would say we're a little above average, but we got a chance to be a real good defense. Just fix a couple minor mistakes we make, due to inexperience," Thomas said. "We have a chance to be a good defense going down the stretch. I think we're better than we were at the beginning of the year; things are coming more and more together as the year progresses."
With the offense continuing to struggle, the pressure is on the defense to be even stingier over the final three games. West Virginia's ultimate fate in 2008 likely rests on the shoulders of Thomas and his teammates. If they can get on track earlier in the game, WVU will remain in the race for a BCS bowl, even though it needs a Cincinnati loss for that to happen.